Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Serious about privacy?

I think the current notion of privacy is pretty much dead or dying.  I'd still like to keep some things private, but I think the measures I take really only help give the perception of privacy rather than actual privacy.

For example, I haven't mentioned the names of my boys on this blog.  You could easily find out their names if you wanted to, so why do I avoid naming them? Somehow, it makes Lynn and I feel more comfortable.  I guess by the omission of their names, I'm at least implying that I don't want to have a detrimental effect on their privacy.

A friend of ours doesn't have a Facebook, Twitter or even a LinkedIn Account.  She doesn't like the privacy implications and specifically worries about the effect that such accounts may have if she looks for a new employer.  As she works in the music business, you can probably understand her wariness.  

However, her privacy is lost anyway.  I recently updated our computers and found that the our photography software has facial recognition and can link to tags on Facebook.  I have 13 photographs of my friend's lovely face that were taken since we arrived in this country.  OK, so I'm not going to post these photos to Facebook, but others would/will.  

All this makes me think of a time, about a decade or so ago, when I had an idea about putting facial recognition into the public arena.  At the time, the software was kept for the exclusive use of the intelligence and security communities as a valued capability; some algorithms still remain that way.  It seemed to me that this was a mistake.  

If you want to know who someone is, why not have their parents, friends and colleagues create digital records for you?  You see a known bad guy talk to someone you don't know, search Facebook.  There'll always be a proud Mom or Dad.  Perhaps Mom will have posted a photo of the day their son graduated with a degree in microbiology.  Friends will probably have posted photos of where they've visited and people they hang out with.  There might be enough interesting data that next time they catch a flight, a more thorough time from the TSA would be prudent.

Should this scare us?  I don't think so.  Soon, if there are no digital records of someone, that will be the more interesting fact.  No friends? No parents or carers? No work colleagues? I think you're hiding something. You might duck out of photographs whenever you can, because you dislike your image or think they steal your soul, but I doubt you could be 100% successful at dodging every lens nowadays.

The key for me, is that if you are hiding your intentions and doing cruel or disreputable deeds, then there are fewer places to hide.  Obviously, the flip side is that as we lose privacy, we must as a society become more accepting of different cultures, views and practices.

Wikileaks is disreputable only because of their complete lack of balance.  I want to know what the European, Russian, Iranian and Chinese cables said.  When only one is exposed we see their nudity and notice their imperfections.  If we were all exposed together, perhaps the issues of our world would properly become our focus.

It seems to me that the secrecy of nations is similar to the privacy of individuals.  You cannot expect technology to erode the privacy of the individual and not have a similar effect on the secrecy of nations.  In the fight against terrorism and the tyranny of nations, secrecy is the biggest weapon of the protagonists we fight.  Secrecy allows terrorists and criminals to move freely, corrupt governments to remain in power and ultimately it erodes our modern society.

Wikileaks merely distracts us from the issues whilst we enjoy the titillation and search for who to blame.  Like the paparazzi standing outside an exclusive restaurant, their exposures would be worthless if the celebs freely posted accurate photographs themselves.

Monday, November 29, 2010


I can't seem to write my blog at the moment.  I write, but I drift into seriousness every time.  When I complete a post, I find I have something unpublishable under the banner 'Damp Shorts'.  

Last week I wrote about feeling invisible.  I'd meant to write about I was now making a transition from trying to stay invisible during my childhood to keep out of trouble, through using invisibility to sneak through my earlier career.... only to be annoyed at becoming seemingly invisible in my Mr Mom role and now wanting to shake off all invisibleness and become a successful part of the American workforce.  However, it read more like the ramblings of a downtrodden victim.  And victim I am not.

Today, I found myself writing about privacy, secrecy and Wikileaks.  I was called for the end of needless secrecy and questioned Wikileaks' singular focus on America.  I want to see all the world's nations' cables. I tried to lighten it by shoehorning in a joke, but ultimately it was unusable here.  I think I just need to focus on why Damp Shorts was started in the first place. 

Perhaps all this seriousness is because I might get a work permit soon and I feel I need to use this part of my brain.  Though I wonder if it could be that Thanksgiving affected me.  The concept of the Thanksgiving seems wonderful to us.  You get the all the feast and goodwill, but without the pressure of presents.  For us this year, Thanksgiving was quite tough though.  Don't get me wrong we've plenty to be thankful for.  In fact, in some ways that's the issue.  

Lynn had time off from writing jokes for CBS, but also got a horrific deadline for a script polish she's been given.  So Lynn was squirrelled away in our guest room tweaking this movie script, whilst I tried to keep both boys amused.  We are thankful for the work, confident we made the right decision, but we all somehow feel like we missed out on the joy.  I think we need to be together to feel fully thankful and strong.

I built cushion forts, taught my eldest to make pancakes and crispy treats, watched lots of TV, played basketball and took my boys to the park.  

My highlights were when my youngest referred to me as "that man" and when he saw the new billboards for the movie 'Burlesque' and said, "Ew look, yukkie ladies!"  

Meanwhile my eldest wrote his first book report and we discovered that he can actually write quite neatly.  He's been hiding his neatest work from us, so that we don't expect too much from him. Now that's sneaky! 

Yet again I've really struggled to keep this post from straying into the overly serious.  Maybe I need another blog for the serious stuff.  But what would I call it?  Damp Logic? Stodgy Shorts? 

Suggestions please...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Fun at the Gym

My Gym is one of the places, other than school or work, that we have visited most since moving to Los Angeles.

Our eldest was first to be invited to a birthday party at My Gym in Encino and he loved it.  So much so, he had his 7th Birthday party there.

His 6th birthday had been a far more dismal affair, we'd only really just arrived in the country and so we went to this place he'd heard of called Chuck E Cheese... [please note I didn't link to the cheese on purpose!]  I was told you should just stay quiet if you can't say anything nice...  So in order of niceness: the parking lot and that machine that draws pictures of you and the big mouse are the best bits of Chuck E Cheese.

My Gym is great for kids parties.  They get to run, jump, bounce, crawl, climb and pretty much be active in a safe environment.  There's even a 'safe' area for adults to wait, observe and shout 'encouragement' from.  Though mostly it's a time to compare war stories, share battle winning tactics and consider when it would be possible to schedule some 'no kids' time.

I was there again on Sunday at a 3 yr olds party.  We hadn't been for a while and I wasn't entirely looking forward to it.  My 3 yr old isn't exactly a team player.  He does what he likes, when he likes it.  On previous trips to My Gym with my youngest I've never been able to stay in the 'safe' adult area.  I'm always either trying to cajole the angry boy into a group activity or insisting that it's not ok to hold your friend down with a foot, whilst you wrestle the ball you wanted from his/her hands.  And then there's the tears when it's all over and time to put socks and shoes back on...

Sunday was different though.  My boy is growing up.  He played nice, he listened to the My Gym staff, he sat in a circle for the activities and he sat in the audience to watch the puppet show.  I stood and chatted to parents in the 'safe' area.  I watched other parents try to supply the cajoling for group actions and persuade short dictators to adopt a sharing policy.  My boy loved it and he loved being part of it.  And I actually had quite a good time too.

Obviously, he's still the same boy though.  When we got home he was back to his less cooperative self.  How dare I try to feed him such muck?  Vegetables!  How very dare I!  Can't I see the chocolate?  You just wait there, whilst I climb onto the kitchen countertop to get the chocolate down....   Dora the Explorer came to the rescue and Boots inspired him to scoff two bananas in short succession.

Perhaps, I'm trying to ignore his progression and development.  Sure it's easier when he's more cooperative and reasonable, but I don't want him to grow up too fast.  Where's the fun in that?

Thursday, November 18, 2010


We took the kids out last night to Pandemonium: The Lost and Found Orchestra.

We were both hopeful that our boys would love the whole experience and worried that our youngest would completely sabotage such a huge production.  We were given our tickets from the lovely Glynis Henderson who we hadn't seen in years, so we wanted to be on best behavior...

As ever, we failed at just a little at the planning stage.  This time we forgot to check when the performance started and finished.  The performance started at 8pm, which is when I try to have my boys at least on the road to bed.  Last night they got to bed at 11pm; faces were washed, teeth were scrubbed but bath time was postponed.

To start with everything went well.  The boys were excited to be going out and my 3yr old kept confirming with me that he was going out too and that there was no need for a sitter.  They got dressed to impress, or at least not to un-impress.  My youngest even broke one of his intransigent rules; he wore a jacket.  Lynn got home on time, we left on time and arrived on time.  So far so good.

Stress was starting to appear whilst we were in the crowd waiting at 'Will Call', but still all good.

Then we entered Royce Hall.  The hall is absolutely amazing, it feels big and yet somehow enclosed.  I overheard someone say that it's been recently refurbished, whilst my youngest shouted, "I don't like it! I want to go home!"  I gave him cuddles and soft words and slowly we made our way to our seats.

In the 10 minutes we had before the show, my eldest nervously played with the folding chairs, my youngest repeated over and over, "I want to go HOME!" and Lynn tried to hold a conversation with Glynis  who was sitting a few rows away.

From the moment the show started my eldest was mesmerized and I knew that what ever happened next, this trip was worth it.  My youngest was immediately very scared, he hid behind his hands trying not to look saying,"Too scarey, I want to go home."  Then when the music got louder he put his hands over his ears saying, "Too Loud!"  I struggled to keep him quiet and was relieved when he wanted to move to Lynn's knee.

When the first piece finished and the audience stopped applauding, there was this amazing silence as the we all eagerly tried to anticipate the next sounds... "I WANT TO GO HOME!" was what everyone heard.  Once he'd realized the effect he'd had, my beautiful son tried it out between each and every piece of the first half.

I'm so glad that the show was filled with humor and that audience was so forgiving.  In the end, all his fear was slowly eroded and replaced with awe in the spectacle and sounds.  We all had an amazing night.  Right now I'm sure there's a bunch of 8 yr olds being bored with the details, and a bunch of 3 yr olds wondering why their pal keeps repeating, "music too loud, music too loud."

Poor planning can pay off in the end.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

It Got Better and Continues To.

Bullying robs our children of their self confidence and hinders their discovery of their talents.

I'm going to confess.  I was a bully at school.  It was over 20 years ago and I bullied one school mate, Steuart Harrison.  I was bullied myself by many boys and didn't exactly have it easy, but that's no excuse.

Our High School was, I'm told, the first school in the UK to get CCTV cameras installed in the playground.  At the time I was there, the local area had the highest unemployment rate in the UK.  It was not pretty, and for some, it all felt hopeless.  I had two fist fights in my first two weeks; nothing I instigated and these were the first full-on fights I'd ever experienced.  My village primary school (equivalent to elementary and middle school) had less than 100 pupils and was a much more nurturing and fun place to be, so High School was a severe shock to us all. 

Steuart was odd as a child.  Actually he still is quite odd.  He was born in Papua New Guinea and arrived in Scotland aged 10, with an distinctly Australian accent and an amazing ability to mimic monkeys.  Difference amongst my friends wasn't something that was to be tolerated.  Steuart says I gave him his nickname 'Hinge Hand' - he was considered effeminate or limp wristed.  He isn't / wasn't gay, but that didn't seem to matter much then and it certainly doesn't matter now.

I think it was Steuart who gave me my nickname, 'Pizza-Face' as a means to 'help' me with my struggle with acne.  We definitely didn't get along and I was definitely mean to him.  And I did hit him too.  I even remember walking over to him and punching him in the face, just to show off to my idiotic friends.  

I do not know a single one of those idiotic friends anymore and I can't even remember their names, except for the most evil one - I heard that he became a bit of a drug dealer and then eventually moved to Thailand to sell brides.  I bet he's quite the charmer now.

I do still know Steuart though.  I love him like a brother.  A teacher helped turn us around from being enemies.  I can't say the teacher was particularly fantastic.  In fact, the one thing that started Steuart and I seeing eye to eye, was that we both agreed that the teacher was a complete imbecile.  We became the very best of friends, we both went to University in Glasgow and, along with others, tried to systematically drink the town dry.  He studied Architecture at the school of Art and I kept visiting him - there were only 2 girls in my class of 120 electrical engineers.... 

He lives in Vienna now and lectures in Architecture.  We're still in touch and still amused at how things turned out.  That was a difficult and nasty 4 or so years, prior to our almost 30 years of friendship.  

It could only get better if he moved closer to LA.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Scary Tuesday.

I wrote this on Tuesday.... and then kept checking the news in case I'd seen something of note....

I just collected my eldest from school.  He just turned 8 at the weekend and we all went to Legoland to celebrate, so the whole family is a bit tired - we don't travel too well and our 3 year old makes certain no one sleeps properly.

Yesterday, we received an email from the USCIS saying that they're sending us a letter requesting more evidence with regard to our Green Card application.  We don't know what they're missing and until the letter arrives we can only guess.

Today, we went to Van Nuys for  biometrical testing which turned out to be just finger printing and photographing.  I was half expecting DNA swabs and iris scans, so it was quite a relief to be so minimally measured.  Sometimes I think in the future there'll be computerized spittoons for everyone entering a country's borders.

As I drove the kids back to school, I noticed a young man being arrested at gunpoint.  It may be surprising considering where we live, but this is the first time I've seen this, since that guy outside my work on July 21, 2005 during the failed bombing attempt in London.  It made me a little nervous to be driving past such a scene with my family in the car, but life goes on and I shrugged it off - all British and stiff-upper-lip style.

When I went to collect my eldest after school, I had intended that we go to a store to buy some more Lego base plates.  The plan being, that if we can make a table dedicated to Lego, hopefully we can clear the rest of the house of those plastic foot-stabbing torture pieces.  However on the way, the traffic seemed a little slow and just after we passed a motorcycle store called 'Ultra Violence', I couldn't fail to notice the five police cars that were helping ruin at least one young man's day.  The way he was being treated, suggested to me that perhaps he was known to the officers as very naughty, or that he was known more intimately to the officers and I'd just witnessed some quite rough heavy petting. ;-)

Anyway, I figured that with the slow traffic and all the guns I'd seen today, we should just go home and leave the Lego till tomorrow.  So I turn right and then stop at the next set of traffic lights, waiting to turn right again and head home.  In the parking lot directly across from me, I see four young men with burgundy baseball caps have handguns drawn and are directing two men to lie face down on the ground.  There was no visible Police presence anywhere.  It was such an odd vision, both unusual and somehow familiar - this is North Hollywood after all.  I've probably even seen actors in pretty much those same poses, probably at that very same location... but there were no camera trucks anywhere - I checked.

The rest of the world seemed to be getting on with things, either oblivious or not caring that such a dangerous situation was unfolding only yards away.  I decided that it's lucky you can turn right on a red light here, cos even if you weren't allowed, there was no way I was waiting for some bizarre manmade lighting contraption to decide that it was time for me to remove my son from this place.  As I drove off I heard sirens and, in the DMV defined way, pulled over to the right, while a cop car sped towards where I had just left.

I didn't want to unnecessarily scare my son, but I had to tell him why we weren't going to get the Lego.  So I told him the truth, Dad was scared and we all know it's Dad's job to keep the family safe.

[Image from ImageShack.us ]

Thursday, November 4, 2010

3 Hour Workout

I think we've become different people. OK, yes I'm now in the Mr Mom role, so of course a lot has changed.  What I didn't predict is that I'd find myself instigating the purchase of gym equipment.

In my view, gymnasiums are places of torture and boredom, reserved for the incredibly vain and the terminally undiagnosed victims of the modern world.  An extreme view perhaps, so I'll try to explain.  I love exercise when it's social and uplifting and outside.  Inside, it starts to lose it sheen and the only way to keep the fun is to add playful competition - stopping short of actual competitive sports of course, which becomes tedious and meaningless to me.  To mindlessly slog away on a gym bike or elliptical, for me constitutes exercise with all enjoyment removed.  Sometimes, when I've been really down or overly self conscience, I tried using a gym, but even a 40" and expanding waistline never motivated me to ever go more than once a year.

In the UK, I was getting fatter every year.  I tried to add more walking in my day, attempted to eat healthier and was frankly desperate to reverse the trend, but somehow nothing really worked.  An unhealthy work pattern, too much travel and hotel food was taking it's toll.

Here in LA, it's a different story.  Sort of.  Initially, I lost a little weight which was probably just the effort being a new Mr Mom in a foreign land - I still had no time for any additional exercise.  Eventually though, I found some time and started to cycle a little around the flat San Fernando valley, then I discovered a book called Day Hikes Around Los Angeles.  This was a revelation for me, in the UK we'd probably call this hillwalking and it would normally involve goretex clothing, ugly boots, flasks of tea and stunning views of green hills and valleys.  Here it involves sun cream, cool cross training shoes, reusable water bottles and stunning views of an epic scale that are somehow familiar.

This summer swimming was a revelation, suddenly I had an exercise in my own backyard that I could do in 30 minutes and also build my confidence in an activity that I had never truly mastered in the UK.  I even found that I achieved something like a kind of meditative state whilst swimming.  I found that I could swim without really thinking about what I was doing and that gave me a time to clear my head and concentrate on what I wanted to achieve with my day.  In fact, swimming is pretty much responsible for me starting this blog.  I thought I'd keep swimming no matter how much the pool chilled.  I was wrong.

I decided I like my new 36" waistline - even though the stores here lie about the sizes of their clothes, my belt is now 4" tighter than when I arrived.  I seem to have gotten busier and if I get a job it's only going to get worse.  I need a means to exercise quickly and now that I'm sooo thin, I don't have the warming fat reserves that would allow me to swim the icy waters in our back yard.  Well that's my excuse, but it would seem silly to move to a place that has 95F temperatures in November, only to dunk myself into a Scottish winter experience every morning.

So here I find myself.  I've just completed a 3 hour workout on a new elliptical machine that is now in our garage / gym.  I've only stood on the machine for 2 minutes though - it took me 2 hours 58 minutes to build the darned thing!

I took great care building this machine of torture, after all I want it to be obviously in good working order when it appears on Craig's List in about 6 months time...